Say it isn't so: Ugly politics in Vermont?

Negative campaigning has been a fixture in high-profile races elsewhere in the country, and now it seems to have arrived in Vermont in full force.

The four lesser-known candidates - Cris Ericson of the U.S. Marijuana Party, and independents Dan Feliciano, Em Peyton and Dennis Steele - largely kept to issues during Sunday's debate, but did scold Dubie and Shumlin for their tone.

"When you put two bull studs in a small corral," Ericson said, "what do you expect, folks?"

Dark thread:

In the past month, relations between Dubie and Shumlin have been especially sour, fueled by television ads from the Republican Governors Association ripping Shumlin for proposing to release dangerous prisoners early. Shumlin says he would release prisoners only after they had completed their prison terms, and only with adequate treatment programs to keep them out of trouble.

Dubie "tells something that's not true and then they suggest I'm being negative," Shumlin said.

"My ads are factual," Dubie said. "I stand by them."

This month, Shumlin countered with a tongue-in-cheek ad showing Dubie's nose growing Pinocchio-style while a voice refutes the claims.

This week, Alex MacLean, Shumlin's campaign manager, wrote television stations, asking them not to run Dubie's ads because they're factually inaccurate.

"What Brian is trying to do is cast doubt on (Shumlin's) character," said state Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, who ran against Shumlin in the primary but now supports him. She said the tone of the race is unlike anything in recent Vermont politics.

She noted that the heated race for governor in 2000, with incumbent Democrat Howard Dean and Republican challenger Ruth Dwyer fighting over the backdrop of the civil union debate,"no one was going after character assassination," Bartlett said. "It really hasn't happened before."

"Everyone I've spoken to intensely dislikes the negative campaigning," said state Sen. Bill Doyle, a Republican from Montpelier who has been in the Senate for 40 years. "No one I know is happy about the tone of the gubernatorial debate."

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